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New study highlights drivers behind suicide in the Americas

Posted: Tuesday, February 28, 2023. 3:23 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: What drives suicide? The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has been studying the issue and finds different causes associated with suicide mortality in the Americas in the first 20 years of the current century.

The article Contextual factors associated with country-level suicide mortality in the Americas, 2000-2019, published last week in leading medical journal The Lancet, identified that while homicide and the use of alcohol and other substances are associated with an increase in suicide mortality among males, educational inequality was the main factor among females. For both sexes, unemployment was associated with an increase in suicide mortality.

The Americas is the only region in the world to see increasing rates of suicide mortality since 2000 with nearly four in every five happening among men. 2019 saw more than 97 thousand deaths by suicide reported, though the average rate declined with increased spending on health per capita among men and more physicians per 100,000 people for women, as well as increased population density as a factor, highlighting issues in rural areas.

Co-author Dr Renato Oliveria e Souza said preventing suicide must address contextual factors that affect men and women differently, which requires an all-of-society approach, not just limiting access to methods of suicide and addressing mental health care and socio-emotional skills. Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing more employment opportunities, access to health services and especially those for substance use, and enhancing social connections in rural and under-populated areas is key, he added.

“Cultural expectations around gender largely determine the sex difference in suicide mortality,” Dr. Shannon Lange, a scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research (CAMH) in Canada and lead author of the paper said. “Multi-sectoral measures aimed at the health and well-being of society should be emphasized in prevention efforts.”

PAHO works to improve the mental health of the population of the Americas and reduce suicide mortality. The Organization provides technical cooperation in suicide prevention to countries through the application of WHO’s Live Life guide, which proposes evidence-based interventions and a comprehensive national response to prevent suicide.


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